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  • Writer's pictureDavid Lloyd

What's the latest on BBC local radio?

"The changes to local programming will be detrimental to you the listener."

"You remove these community ambassadors and all those wonderful contacts and stories disappear - and I fear they will never come back."

Faye Hatcher's painful words on BBC Radio Gloucestershire say it all.

Where are we with the plans for BBC local radio? Is there any hope?

The BBC still insist smugly that that the erosion of BBC local radio is necessary because local news online is to be increased.

It claims a weird interchangeability between the two; evidence that it really does not understand radio.

"I've never know a relationship or connection like it", said Faye.

The BBC imply that we are all old-fashioned because we believe in the value of radio. You can, actually, believe in and understand both. Audio is pretty popular. It may be something to do with people having ears.

Let’s say it again. You are wrong. There is more than enough cash. If you cannot run BBC local radio on the available budgets – then you are clearly unfit to be in post. Managing budgets is what managers do.

One senior BBC exec said to me this week: "a less cumbersome organisation would be perfectly able, within such ample budgets, to walk radio and chew online gum at the same time."

Need help? Open the books of one region - and we’ll tell you how. I’ll bring together a group of sensible people, including people I know and trust at the BBC, who also can point to where your current plans are just daft in where they are spending money and where they’re not.

To suggest that the scale of budget proposed is required to broadcast just a couple of programmes from a site per day and a half-hearted off-peak and weekend service is simply laughable.

And, as we examine again why audiences are not at their best, I state again – for the Head of Nations not to even understand the network's current target audience is worrying. At a recent BBC farewell party last week, I reminded them of his statement that the network was targeted at ‘the elderly’. They laughed. Knowing your target audience is key.

Twitter is a depressing place, seeing great people waving goodbye – often ones who can make a difference. In addition to the ones forced out the door or to a patch about which they know diddly squat, there are the ones who simply think they cannot bear a moment longer working they do. This includes the bright young things the BBC desperately needs.

I say again too, to the architects of this carbuncle, if your job as a leader is to embody the BBC Values, then surely you have to resign on the strength of some of the staff survey findings, past and present. You have failed in your implementation of a flawed strategy. There's not a lot else you're supposed to do.

"I've seen the impact...It's been devastating to some of my friends"

Today, we hear from Ofcom about their warnings to community radio. I believe that community radio stations should do their level best to reach their commitments - and that there are clear and serious issues with some stations on occasions. But they have challenges - and even the best would probably cope better with some funding.

Is it not odd that, judging by the community radio definition of 'locally-originated', NO BBC local radio station would even qualify for a community radio licence under the plans?

Ofcom: "Community stations typically provide 93 hours of original and distinctive output a week, mostly locally produced"

How on earth can a radio network benefiting from £123m not even be able to provide a service that the regulator expects of a group of local enthusiasts?

Claims that this is all down to the Government are nonsense. It’s maybe one thing that’s not their fault; indeed, criticism of the local radio changes has been cross-party. The BBC has an enormous budget. Yes the fee was frozen – and I suspect licence fee-payers were grateful. Ask any one of the many businesses struggling at the moment whether they’d rather like the BBC benefit of incomes guaranteed at the same level as three years ago. They’d bite your hand off.

And we are still puzzling how the plans will even meet the existing licence commitments in terms of annualised local programming hours.

How will Ofcom regulate the BBC’s plans post-hoc? I have asked about the definition of terms within the Service Licence and they appear to have few answers.

The Ofcom consultations were unfit for purpose. To even begin to rely on any conclusion from them must be, ergo, flawed. Simple evidence is that much of the criticism now evident would have been forthcoming a consultation had the right people been aware of the proposed changes. Provisions would then have been implemented to modify them.

Ofcom’s consultation principles state:

"Wherever possible, we will hold informal talks with people and organisations before announcing a big consultation, to find out whether we are thinking along the right lines. If we do not have enough time to do this, we will hold an open meeting to explain our proposals, shortly after announcing the consultation."

Where were the talks? With whom? Was there an open meeting?

"We will make the consultation document as short and simple as possible, with a summary of no more than two pages."

The two-page summary in the original consultation did NOT make clear the extent of BBC local radio changes, despite Ofcom knowing the BBC’s intentions.

Their alibi would be that the extant Licence already permitted this, but it was surely duty-bound to make that clear - as the changes proposed were in the context of radical changes in the modus operandi which had a fundamental impact on the relevance of the matters consulted upon.

"Simple as possible"? 109 pages it was. 109 bloody pages.

Do they expect the average BBC local radio listeners to rifle through those?

Yes, they do.

In answer to one of my questions on what BBC regions are and how they might be defined, they said “We received no comments about this definition in response to our consultation”. The matter was buried on page 77.

Despite Ofcom criticising the BBC for programming for poorly-serving social class CD2E audiences, and the local network delivering the most C2DE audiences of all the networks, no mention of this matter was made in the letter from Ofcom to the BBC in February 2023. How can Ofcom not take into account fundamental changes to this network in a context they themselves had identified?

Ofcom has proven itself a sensible regulator in many areas. It is failing in its regulation of the BBC.

A huge number of MPs and local councils have made their views felt. Many listeners have. Many in the BBC have serious doubts. How can a broadcaster charged with serving the public ignore its public to this extent?

Faye thinks this is a moment in time - and there will be no return if this folly is executed. She's right. That's why I'll be joining my first ever picket line this week.

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